BY strongly supporting right-wing extremist parties in German regional elections on Sunday, voters in this country have sent a clear message to Bonn: They don't like the way the political establishment is handling such problems as the flood of asylum-seekers, reunification costs, and European unity.
Rather than interpret Sunday's elections as a vote for right-wing radicalism per se, political leaders here describe the results as a protest against Germany's mainstream parties.
Both the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which is the conservative party of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) suffered severe losses. The CDU lost an absolute majority in its last stronghold in west Germany, the affluent state of Baden-Wurttemberg.
"This is a protest vote," said German Defense Minister Volker Ruhe, the manager of the CDU. "Voters feel the big parties are not solving the problems."
"We must now look within ourselves to decide where we've gone wrong," said Bjorn Engholm, the SPD premier of the state of Schleswig-Holstein and the party's candidate to run against Chancellor Kohl in 1994 national elections.
Support for right-wing extremist parties was unprecedented in the two states where elections were held.
In the southern state of Baden-Wurttemberg, the far-right Republicans, led by a former Nazi SS officer, won an astonishing 11 percent of the vote and 15 seats in the state's parliament. In 1988, the Republicans won only 1 percent of the vote in that state.
In Schleswig-Holstein, the right-wing German People's Party (DVU) also did surprisingly well, and entered the state parliament for the first time with six seats. Exit polls indicated that youth and blue collar workers were the main backers of the right-wing extremists.
The extremist parties campaigned mostly on the asylum issue, warning that the country was being swept by economic refugees who are abusing Germany's asylum laws. Germany allows no legal immigration but has a liberal policy on political asylum. It is Europe's prime destination for East European refugees and last year attracted over 250,000 asylum-seekers, many from Yugoslavia.
The CDU has been seeking to change the Constitution to tighten up the asylum provisions, but the SPD refuses to go along and the parties are at a stalemate.
The rightist parties also campaigned against the loss of the deutsche mark, which will occur when Europe adopts a single currency, as negotiated by Chancellor Kohl at the Maastricht summit last December.
West Germans especially are concerned that their country's economic prowess is being threatened. They are alarmed by the cost of building up east Germany, which is resulting in increased inflation and high public debt.